Studies have shown that 9% to 18% of normal individuals can have some degree of blood in the urine or what doctors call hematuria. Sometimes blood in your urine is an indicator of something quickly treatable like a urinary tract infection or as a result of an enlarged prostate, but it can also be a sign of a serious medical condition including bladder cancer, the sixth most common cancer in the U.S.
You may have gross hematuria meaning that you can see the blood in your urine, or it could be microscopic, revealed by a urine dipstick and then examined under a microscope to see the presence of red blood cells.
After taking a thorough medical history and doing a physical exam, your doctor has a variety of tools for evaluating whether blood in your urine could be caused by bladder cancer. One test is urine cytology which just means that a sample of your urine is analyzed under a microscope to check for cancer cells.
You may also have an imaging test. One of the most common is a CT urogram, a type of x-ray that allows your urologist to examine the structures and tissue in your upper urinary tract.
There’s also cystoscopy for the lower urinary tract. This is generally performed as an office procedure under a local anesthetic. Your urologist inserts a narrow tube with a lens and fiber optic lighting system through your urethra. The tube allows examination of the inside of your urethra and bladder. Cystoscopy is also the procedure that allows your doctor to locate a tumor, and later perform a possible transurethral resection. A transurethral resection of a bladder tumor, abbreviated as TURBT, is done under general anesthesia and involves collecting tumor tissue from your bladder. This tissue is examined to determine the presence of cancer. TURBT can also be used to treat bladder cancer.
Smokers developed bladder cancer two to three times the rate of non-smokers. People who work with dyes, metal, paints, leather, textile and organic chemicals may also be at high risk. Having chronic bladder infections might also heighten your risk. At this time, there’s no screen test for early detection of bladder cancer, although periodic check of the urine for microscopic blood may promote earlier detection.
To find out more, click on Patient Education on our website and choose Bladder Cancer or another topic.